Get out of your head to get into the game
According to Webster: "focus - (noun) a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity; (verb) to direct one's attention or efforts."
Regarding tennis, I believe concentration and simplification can be added to this definition.
Think of your brain as a muscle, and concentration as the exercise for your brain. Simplifying is just that: throwing out all the things flying around in your head that can distract you from concentrating on the immediate task at hand.
Staying focused is another one of those "things" about tennis that seems, in theory, easy to master. Unfortunately, just like keeping your eye on the ball, it's very easy to lose focus at any time during play and - poof! - the point is over, usually not in your favor.
So what causes loss of focus and what can be done to better maintain it?
The first part of this question has a multitude of answers. Everything from boredom, bringing mental baggage to the court, to daydreaming or simply not paying attention can contribute to the loss of focus.
I think sometimes we might subconsciously forget the reasons we, as recreational, club and league players, participate in this "sport for a lifetime": to have fun, socialize, and stay fit both physically and mentally.
The mental part, getting your brain to hone in on the ball and immerse yourself in each point, is the essence of being in focus.
At the same time, shutting out the extraneous, everyday worries and cares is a great refresher for your brain, like hitting the restart button on your computer.
Then there's the physical aspect, including fatigue, weather, court and equipment conditions.
I recall playing at the state mixed doubles championships on a hard court that had holes in it repaired with duct tape. Talk about a challenge to one's focus!
The answer to maintaining better focus also has many facets. First, concentrate on seeing the ball come off of your opponent's strings and tracking it into your strings.
On contact, keep your head still. That's focusing on the ball.
Stay focused in the point after sending the ball across the net by watching your opponents, how and where they're moving to hit it back.
This allows you to anticipate where the ball may come back and keeps your focus to transition better to the ball coming off of their strings.
Between points, look at your strings, sight the sweet spot; tell yourself to pay attention when receiving.
When serving, don't rush. Bounce the ball two or three times and take a deep breath.
Concentrate on watching the ball as if you're trying to read its logo.
As you train your brain to concentrate on staying focused you'll transition from "Got focus?" to "Got focus!"
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area.